Vanderleun compares American and Spanish Halloween traditions:
What remains in my memory from watching the parade of cars on that long-lost Spanish highway is just how dour and serious the Spanish were on their Halloween. They weren’t fooling around with death, but taking it at its word. They not only believed in death they also, in their prayers and rituals and their traditional play, believed that what you do in life determines how you will be treated in the afterlife. They had, at bottom, that adamantine belief that is the pearl beyond price of the Catholics. But even if you were to strip away the 2000 years of dogma, these people still had the one thing that more and more Americans lack at the core of their lives: a belief in something greater than themselves, a belief in something greater than man, greater than death….
…From a minor tradition of sending kids out for to pick up some free candy, Halloween has mushroomed into a major American fornication festival in which we regularly — and with increasing intensity — celebrate the meat state of life while pretending to vaguely celebrate the spiritual part. If you’ve noted, as I have, the increasing lust for gruesomeness in costumes at every new Halloween, you might have reflected that dark humor has taken a back seat to darker fascinations. One new costume around this year allows you to dress us as a corpse in a body bag complete with wounds and autopsy slashes. And that’s a mild one.
Added on to costumes depicting violent death, mutilation, and the corruption of the grave, we have the increasing trend to freak show street events and private parties where this week’s perversion is served as bubbling punch; as a witch’s brew we are only too pleased, dressed as dregs, to drink to the dregs. In Seattle, of course, freak show street events and perversion parties are pretty much the order of the day, if not the daily spectacle on many blocks. But there’s something about Halloween that brings out the horror show of many inner lives like no other event. The only thing that saves us from seeing ghouls and goblins parading naked about the streets with their full-body tattoos and multiple genital piercings on display is the colder temperature, but there are clubs that specialize in that all about the city so you can see it if you wish.
It seems strange that a day for the contemplation of mortality has been turned into a carnival of corruption in this country, but perhaps not all that strange. I’d suggest that, as the country becomes more secular; as it ceases to believe in anything other than the here and now, the moment in the meat, it becomes increasingly terrified of the extinction of the self by death. It is one thing to profess a belief in the Great Nothingness, it is quite another to have to face it. The only weak weapon that can be raised up against it is its denial.
Oh, brother. This is one reason why I’m immune to religion. All religions seem to be based on the pervasive fear that someone, somewhere is having fun.
Halloween celebrations, like parachute jumping and roller coasters, are fun because they look scary, but really aren’t. America is based on the idea of challenging the status quo, pushing the edges of the envelope. How many grim, death-and-God fearing Spaniards have walked on the moon?
If you happen to be religious, define it as a leap of faith. Eat candy for dinner, pretend to be a corpse, go for a swim immediately after eating lunch. Just do it.